"My name is Zainal bin Sapari. I have to tell you my age, marital status and the number of children I have to reassure you that I fit into the heteronormative requirements for Singaporean politics and that I live and breathe the national axiom of 'family as the basic unit of society'. My parents had little education so when I was young, my father had to work 3 jobs and my mother had to work as a maid to feed their five children. My story of rags to riches is an exception because of the special residential arrangements we had – any other parents who had to support 5 children while working 4 jobs would probably find it extremely difficult.
We happily moved to an apartment because we thought that highways and high-rise apartments were signs of modernity and progress. This country is no place for those with no education because we saved enough for only a 3-room flat for the 7 of us. Among my siblings, I am the only one who graduated from university on the bursary most accepting of Malays. I decided to teach because teaching is the most popular and respected profession among Malays and because I present my life as an example of how education can contribute to the social mobility of the poor.
I let myself be chosen as a candidate after joining its sister organization, unique to Singapore – a state co-optation of trade and labour unions presented as a ‘tripartite’ harmonious working relationship, and use the memory of my late mother to add a personal touch. When I was 17 or 18, I applied for financial assistance from an organization that is supposed to give aid to the politically-constructed category of Malays/Muslims in the name of ‘self-help’.
To make sure they were helping only those who deserved it, I had to tell them my aspirations, but I don’t know why I told them I wanted to be an MP. I use analogies from Islam so that the Malays, who are 99% Muslim, can see I am a religious man who will take God-given duties seriously and willingly. I speak in Malay because the PAP thinks Malays will only vote for Malay candidates.
The Malays in Singapore don’t know who I am, because I am neither a singer nor a footballer. All my life, I have wanted to help people and being an MP is a much higher-paid way to keep helping people. I want to help bring up safe issues like increasing the parenting skills of Malay parents and preventing Malay students from dropping out of vocational schools in Parliament because I won’t have the clout to push forward any other important issues like allowing Malays in top positions in the military.
Please let me put myself up for public criticism, the doubting of my competence, and fielding into a constituency not of my choosing. I strongly believe that if we think less like Malays, Chinese or Indians and more like Singaporeans, we can have a better sense of what it means to belong to a nation."